Community , Culture , Columns

Being Home

I spent much of October in the Osage, and I met people who said they recognized me as an Osage News columnist. I know how many people are too busy to read, so it was both good and a little surprising to hear.

My husband Dave and I went on the first cultural walk held on the Mullendore’s Cross Bell Ranch in 2009 after Dave gathered camping gear we could fly with. This year we drove to Oklahoma from SW Washington and attended the 10th Annual Cultural Encampment held on the Osage Nation’s Bluestem Ranch. Over 150 Osages camped up and down a meadow beside a creek. We gravitated toward flat ground along the creek or the higher slope, dividing into two groups, the People on the Ridge and the People beside the Creek. There was beauty in the shapes of the tents on the ridge against the sky and people sitting in chairs in front of their tents, visiting back and forth. It must have been something like the old days without cell coverage and Osages on land under Osage ownership again, celebrating family and friends.

With Addie Hudgins, Director of the WahZhaZhe Cultural Center and head cook for the Pawhuska District in charge of the event, I looked forward to Osage comfort food. Paula Stabler led a group of women and one man in cutting meat for meat gravy. There was steam fry, fry bread, squash and boiled potatoes for dinner. There was the richness of Osages working together, preparing meals over wood fires, the nourishment and good thoughts that went into the meals.

The encampment is an opportunity to visit with friends and family and make new acquaintances. People came from on and off the Osage reservation and from across the country in spite of Osage jokes about roughing it. “My idea of camping is Holiday Express,” said one elder. There were traditional families steeped in the culture and people visiting the Osage for the first time.

Tim Lookout brought his family to the encampment for the first time. He said he’d wanted to come on previous trips but there was always a scheduling conflict. This year he and his wife Chelle attended with their daughters Stephie, Beth, Emily and Erin.

Dori Biggerstaff brought her husband Jared and five children from Kansas City to give Emilia, Josie, Malachi, Noah and Wesley a first exposure to their Osage heritage. Dori homeschools and had gotten a list of books about the Osage from the Cultural Center for lessons. She said her sons started building lodges as soon as they got home, inspired by the traditional lodge that John HorseChief built with cultural center staff.

One of the conversations that I’ve heard lately, both on social media and in person, concerns the distance between Osages who live in the Osage, those who live at a distance and those who have never been back. I envy people who can fly or drive home more quickly than I can. I’m grateful for the time I spend in Oklahoma, and also deeply appreciate the people who live on our land year-round.

It was good to be in the Osage. The Bluestem is the 43,000-acre ranch that the Nation purchased in 2016. The irony, of course, is that the Osage bought all of Osage County in 1872, but the government allotted it in 1906, paving the way for much of it to leave Osage ownership. Osage County was created and overlay the Osage Reservation, one legal designation on top of the other.

We watched the stars and heard coyotes speaking nearby. Since the encampment, we’ve seen bison and cattle on the Bluestem Ranch and hawks everywhere we drove.

On the 24th of October, my husband Dave saw what he thought were whooping cranes as he drove south on Lynn. The birds flew in a V and then fell into a flurry, before reassembling in a V and continuing on. They were larger than geese, but without the croaking sound sandhill cranes make. An article in the Fairfax Chief on October 18th described the whooping cranes, an endangered species, traveling over Oklahoma in their 2,500-mile journey from northern Canada to south Texas. There are only 500 left in the wild. We’re not certain that’s what he saw, but I like the idea.

I appreciate being able to attend language classes when I’m home. This trip I attended several. Cherise Miller reviewed the orthography, and it clicked into place for me. Mogri Lookout gave a lunchtime class in Hominy, and Eddy Red Eagle, Jr. gave a profound talk on Wahoin that I’m grateful to have heard. I’ve taken Osage languages classes over several years, and there’s good energy in the department. The phrase that resonated was “this place makes you strong.”